Kia ora: Te Kauwhata

Detour through a town you always pass but never stop to visit, writes Elisabeth Easther.

A rider on horseback near Te Kauwhata. Photo / Alex Robertson
A rider on horseback near Te Kauwhata. Photo / Alex Robertson

Where is it? In the Waikato, 51km north of Hamilton, 78km south of Auckland or, if you prefer, 57km west of Thames. And just 16 minutes from Huntly.

Origin of name: There are a couple of possible meanings, but "wade out to the lake" seems to be the most popular.

Population: 1400.

Town slogan: A Village Experience.

Town insignia: A bunch of grapes set on grape leaves, in recognition of the area's viticultural history.

Grape expectations: Te Kauwhata was the site of New Zealand's first wine research station. International viticulturist and winemaker, Romeo Bragato took over the running of this station in 1901 and the first drop was produced in 1903. He clearly had a knack because in 1908, five wines from Te Kauwhata Experimental Station won gold medals at the Franco-British wine exhibition.

Back in the day: When the railway went through in the 1870s, the town grew up around the station and soon the area was flourishing with agriculture and horticulture, making it a popular pitstop between Auckland and Hamilton.

Famous locals: Ian McRae (CEO Orion Health), Joe Karam (David Bain's champion), Erin Simpson (TV personality), Noel Bunn (World War II Monte Cassino veteran recently featured in the press chatting with Prince Harry), Noel Packer (90-year-old author), Ken Nobbs (internationally renowned rose grower) and Gilbert Powley (mentor to many young athletes, now custodian of the town's magnificent roses).

Lucky local: Trevor Cooper, who won $26 million on Lotto.

Best website: tekauwhatavillage.co.nz

Sources of pride: The friendly lifestyle, the award-winning local library and the rich history around Rongopai.

Town fiestas: The annual Christmas Parade (Friday before Christmas) is a doozy, complete with decorated mobility scooters. Plus there's a celebration on Children's Day and the Lion's annual charity cycle challenge in March.

Best reason to stop: Because you've driven past the turn-off so many times, you've always wanted to check it out and when you finally do turn off, you'll wonder why you didn't deviate sooner.

Best place to take kids: The playground at the village green is super, plus there are barbecues, picnic tables and lots of lovely trees for shade when the sun is high.

Best playground: Aside from the aforementioned park and green, the local kids would say out the back of the farm is where it's at, because the great outdoors is filled with fun things to do.

Comfort stop: You'll find clean restrooms in the domain.

Best walks: Wayside Rd-Traverse Rd Loop takes you along country roads on the edge of town, a pretty stroll of about 5km, give or take. Or wander along Swan Rd for stunning views. The Hakarimata Scenic Reserve is also splendid, not far from Huntly this bush walk is just the thing for admiring towering trees on the Kauri Loop Track.

Best view: The lookout on Waerenga Rd across Lake Waikare is pretty and, if you didn't already know, Lake Waikare is the second largest shallow lake in the North Island and plays an important role in the Waikato Valley Flood Management scheme.

Best swim: In summer the pool at the Fitness Centre on Waerenga Road is the perfect place to cool down or a little further afield Miranda has hot pools as well as the sea.

Best museum: Te Kauwhata Settlers' Museum is located on Homestead Rise on Pioneer Way which all sounds so quaint. The collection is housed in one of the first homes to be built in Te Kauwhata, in 1887, aside from holding the area's historical records, there's also memorabilia and historical displays. Open by appointment.

The Greenstone Museum and Shop aka Pounamu Taonga (140 Wayside Road) is also lovely and they have artefacts from the region and their greenstone and bone carvings are spectacular.

Stop to shop: Peplers Savour the Taste makes a super stop if you're after tasty vinaigrettes, dressings, chutneys, jams, sauces and more. They're great for gift baskets too. Visit the Eel Factory Shop on Rata Street for eel delicacies and salmon.

But wait there's more: West's Trading Company Ltd (17 Main Road) is a family-owned general goods store from the good old days selling everything from gifts, hardware, furniture, beds, fishing gear and more - if you can't find it there it ain't worth having.

Tops for coffee: The Bakehouse Cafe at 15 Main Street does a great brew.

Best food: Te Kauwhata Trust Tavern's Vinery restaurant (20 Main Road) is open Thursdays to Sunday, the menu changes with the seasons and on Sundays they do a fabulous roast. You can get fish and chips in town too.

Wet your whistle: Te Kauwhata Tavern is just the place for refreshments or the Rangiriri Pub a little further down the road is a ripper and their meals are huge.

On your bike: The roads in these parts are excellent for cycling because there's little traffic.

Best adventures: If you've a need to speed try the Hot Laps at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park. Or if it's blood you're after try duck shooting or the Rugby Club's annual fundraising possum hunt.

Biggest surprise: That this charming place with its welcoming locals has been there all this time and you've only just discovered it.

Twitchers' paradise: The Whangamarino Wetland is listed with Ramsar, the internationally-acclaimed wetland protection organisation which is committed to protecting and enhancing wetlands around the world. Or nip down to Miranda for yet more serious bird watching.

Best-kept secret: The Aparangi House of Treasures is the most amazing secondhand emporium filled with more surprises than you can shake a stick at. Run entirely by volunteers, it raises funds for the Aparangi Residential Care Unit, part of the Retirement Village. Priceless.

Visitors say: Hey TK, you're A-OK.

Locals say: Told you so.

Thanks to Toni Grace, Jan Sedgwick (Waikato district councillor for Whangamarino) and all the lovely people from the Te Kauwhata Community Committee, who spilled the beans on TK's boundless charms.

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